So, we did it.
I know a lot of people wanted to win more, but we did the most important thing. We beat Trump. And we didn't just barely beat him. Biden is currently at 50.7% of the popular vote - a 3% lead, and a percentage that is on par with Ronald Reagan's popular vote in 1980. We flipped Arizona and Georgia! (Yeah, I know - still preliminary, but all the election numbers nerds on Twitter think those states will remain in Biden's column.) This is a convincing win.
I will leave the analysis of why this didn't translate into greater down ballot success to others. This seems like a reasonable explanation to me:
In hindsight, a blind spot for analysts (including me): Trump atop the ballot is a "best of both worlds" for down-ballot Rs:— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 5, 2020
1) Trump turns out low-propensity Rs in droves
2) Unlike '18, indies can take out anger at Trump directly but still vote for down-ballot Rs they like
That would be good news for the upcoming Georgia Senate runoffs, since Trump won't be on the ballot in January. We of course still need to work like hell to win those runoffs. Stacey Abrams is already showing us the way.
Back during the primary, I wrote that I didn't think Biden was the right person for this moment. Having watched how this campaign played out, and now watching the aftermath, I think I might have been wrong. Democrat's best case scenario is a narrow Senate majority, and the more likely outcome is that the Republicans maintain a narrow majority. Moderate and progressive members of the Democratic House caucus are arguing publicly about why their majority in the House shrunk.
Yesterday, I listened to Ezra Klein's interview with Evan Osnos, who has just published a Biden biography. I recommend that interview for anyone trying to get a sense of Biden's approach to politics, and how he has evolved over his many years in the public eye. I came away cautiously hopeful that Biden's deal-making approach to politics might be exactly what is needed, certainly within the Democratic coalition. It remains to be seen whether there will be anyone willing to make deals on the other side of the aisle.
Biden ran a campaign that highlighted his strengths and convinced me he understood the challenges of the moment. In the end, I happily cast my vote for him and not just against Trump. Time will tell what the Biden administration can accomplish, but I can't argue with the priorities they have identified on their transition website and this list of early executive orders Biden is reported to be planning gives me hope.
I have a bunch of thoughts that I jotted down over the week of watching election returns and trying to keep my anxious 11 year old calm about the results. Instead of trying to turn them into a cohesive narrative, I think I'll just take them one by one.
1. We cannot will the country we want into existence. We have to work for it. Many of my more progressive friends like to say we are a center-left country with a voter suppression problem. I think there is something to that, but it is not the full story. I think the disappointment and a lot of the Democratic infighting we are seeing about the down ballot results is not just due to the polling misses that misled us. I think too many of us think we should be winning by large margins and assume that anytime we don't win by large margins it is because someone screwed up. I think the reality is that there are many people who don't want to vote for Democrats, for a variety of reasons. In this election, some of them set that aside to vote for Biden - and we should be glad they did! - but decided to vote Republican down ballot.
We should work to turn out our voters. We should work to find new voters. We should work to persuade those who are persuadable to vote for us. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking we are the natural majority of the country. We need to work for it, and we need to have strategies for making progress when we must work within split governments or with tight majorities. We cannot just will ourselves into a different world.
2. The country would be in much better shape if the Republican party would choose a different path - but there is very little Democrats can do to make that happen. The silver lining in the results that show Trump increasing his vote share among some Latinos and other people of color is that it could show the Republicans a different potential future if they would pay attention to that message. I have watched in amazement for years as Republicans fail to recognize that there are many people within the Latino community who would prefer conservative policies but are driven away from the Republicans by the overt racism and xenophobia. I suspect there are similar voters among many if not all ethnic groups. I honestly expected that the California Republican party would have figured that out and changed course by now. But they have not, and instead they continue to lose power. When I first came to San Diego, it was a fairly Republican place. We just had a mayor's race between two Democrats and flipped our county board blue.
As much as I think the country would be in a better place if both major parties started from a place that embraces the reality that we are diverse, multi-ethnic democracy, there is not much that Democrats can do to move the Republican party in that direction. All we can do is try to keep winning elections and hope they eventually figure that out.
3. Even if we end up with a Republican Senate, we need to fight hard to fix the problems we see. I know Mitch McConnell is promising obstruction. Let's not assume he will get his way. We should still advance legislation that strengthens democracy, like statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. The Republican platform says they support statehood for Puerto Rico. Let's send the Senate a bill that does that and force Marco Rubio (who is up for re-election in 2022) to explain why he is against it.
Similarly, while we won't get something called "The Green New Deal" through a Republican Senate, there are a lot of climate-friendly policies that poll really well, even in red states. Let's put those forward and see what we can do.
I think that too often we just assume the Republicans won't do the right thing and channel all of our frustration at Democrats for not somehow fixing it anyway. What if we instead channeled our energies towards peeling off a few Republicans now and then?
4. We need new leadership in Congress. It is unclear to me how much of the down ballot pain is really due to leadership decisions, but it is very clear that there are energetic younger members who have different ideas for how to win elections and move this country forward. It is time for generational change in leadership. I genuinely don't understand why some of these people don't want to retire - don't they have books they want to read, trips they want to take, grandkids to spend time with? But if they won't retire and let a new generation come in, I guess we'll have to start forcing the issue.
5. We have a propaganda and disinformation problem in this country. It is coming from Fox News, but also from various other directions on social media. I have no idea how we counter this, but there are people who study exactly this issue and we need to listen to them and start figuring this out. Next time a would-be autocrat comes on the scene, we might not be as lucky as we were this time.
That's where I'm at right now. I am relieved at the outcome of the election. I think everyone who helped win this election should celebrate and enjoy the victory. And then we need to get back to work on fixing the problems we have. I am tired of thinking this much about politics. I'd rather do other things. But this is the moment I live in, and I want my kids to have a better future than the one we'll get if we stay on our current climate trajectory. So I'll keep working.